The British singer-songwriter was born on the Caribbean Island of Saint Kitts and was raised by her grandmother on Antigua until she joined the rest of her family in Birmingham, England, at age seven.
Armatrading dropped out of school at 15 in favor of going to work to help support her family. Her first job at a tool manufacturing company didn't last long - she was fired for playing the guitar on her breaks.
The singer has successfully tried her hand at many different genres, including pop, rock, and folk rock, making her a fixture on the UK charts since her debut in the 1970s. But it was her foray into the blues that garnered her attention stateside when her 2007 album Into the Blues debuted at #1 on the US Blues chart.
Not only was Armatrading the first female UK artist to top the Blues Album chart, but she was also the first female UK artist to earn a Grammy nomination in a blues category (Best Contemporary Blues Album).
Armatrading on songwriting (The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters by Daniel Rachel): "The song will dictate. You need to follow the song: don't be the one pulling in this direction, let it pull you."
She made debut performance as a teen when she sang Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence
" at a concert at Birmingham University.
Armatrading is an introvert, and likes to keep her private life under wraps. This makes interviews a challenge for both her and the journalist. Attempts to discern her life through her songs are usually rebuffed.
She is a vegetarian who doesn't drink alcohol, use profanity, or smoke. She even gave up coffee and tea when she was a teenager.
In her Songfacts interview
, she said that America is her favorite place to perform, since the audiences give instant feedback. "You can go to some countries, and they're applauding and they're liking it, but then at the very end they'll get up and do a standing ovation and they'll woop and wail," she said. "But it's at the very end, so you kind of spend the rest of the concerts wondering, Are they having a good time? Are they enjoying it? Is this working well?"
In school, she was very shy, which earned her the nickname "Joan Armorplating."
She finishes every song she starts writing. Many are terrible and get binned, but they always get finished.
She's one of the few British songwriters of the era who wasn't influenced by The Beatles. After she started writing songs, she came to appreciate Van Morrison.
Her deal with interpersonal relationships, never politics. "It's all about communication," she told Songfacts in 2018. "I don't think that's changed over the years at all and I don't think it ever will because that's why we're here. We're here to communicate with each other."